What I’m Learning from Les Miles

I read an article today about LSU fooball coach, Les Miles, at ESPN.com that not only gave me a real appreciation for the man (this is not easy for an Ole Miss grad to admit), but also made me reflect upon my life as a pastor/husband/dad, since pastoring and coaching seem to be very similar vocations. Somehow, in the midst of the pressure and expectations, Les has been able to succeed as a coach while also being a great dad/family man. According to the article, this is an unusual combination. 

Early on, the bio on Les Miles reads, 

How does a coach make time for a life? How does he make time for a family? Many don’t. Vince Lombardi knew he was a terrible father; a friend said he “never should have had children.” Bill Walsh saw maybe five of his son’s football games, from junior high all the way through college. “I could count on one hand the number of times I played catch with my dad,” Craig Walsh said in a book about his father.The game withers people, literally. Urban Meyer retired after he found himself dropping weight, unable to eat. One look at the tortured face of his replacement, Will Muschamp, and it’s easy to predict a similar end. The state flower of the college football meeting room should be an empty Red Bull can half-filled with dip spit. Men burn out. Marriages crumble. Kids grow up fatherless. The game becomes a crack house for those addicted to competition, days marked by caffeine and stress, the random nature of a game turning ordinary people into miserable control freaks. “I’ve been around guys who feel that way,” Miles says. “Anxiety kills them. The stomach — they keep drinking Maalox. They’re miserable.”

I don’t know about you, but I don ‘t want to be a Maalox Man. I’ve been there. It ain’t no fun for anyone, especially the Maalox Man’s family.

As someone has said, “Nobody gets to the end of his life wishing that he had spent more time at the office.” Evidently, Miles has embraced that philosophy. This does not mean that the office is a bad thing or that we should short change our employers with shoddy labor. Work is important, both as a way to fulfill the creation mandate and to provide materially for a family. However, good things can become idolatrous, and when idolatrous, they become toxic and deadly. This is because idols make promises of satisfaction and reward, but ultimately require ultimate sacrifices such as marriage and children.

So if you are a coach, don’t buy the lie of such promises that victories will give you an identity that will provide deep and lasting happiness. If you are a pastor, don’t buy it, either. If you are a dad of any kind, run for your life. There is more to fatherhood than merely providing material needs, and more to life than finding our value in our work. The gospel tells us that the Christian’s identity is not in our performance, but in Jesus’ performance for us. So relax.  

Personally, I’d rather fail miserably as a pastor and succeed as a dad. Thankfully, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. That is the lesson of Les Miles, who somehow hasn’t sacrificed his kids, and yet is one of the most successful coaches in the nation. So, thanks, “Coach,” for the challenge and inspiration. 

To read how Les Miles has creatively put his family first while remaining an elite college football coach, read the entire article here


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